Tag Archives: tomato sauce

Cooking with my nonna – fresh tomato sauce

28 Jul

Nonna cooking

My grandmother in 87 years old. Cooking with her is an experience.

Trying to get quantities when writing down nonna’s recipes is like trying to get a bank to waiver its account keeping fees.

“First, I put the tomatoes in the pot,” she demonstrates.

“How many?”I ask.

“2, 6, 8….you decide, how many you like.”

“And then the carrots, the onions.”

“Ok, how many carrots then, and onions?

“1,2,3… you decide, how many you like.”

I bet you can guess how the rest of the conversation went…

Tomatoes and other vegetables

I am told to cut the vegetables. I stupidly ask how she would like them. Diced? Quartered? The answer, you can probably guess, is however I like.

I start to brunoise the onion, the way I had been taught at cooking school.

Nonna looks over.

“What are you doing?”

“Chopping the onions like the chef taught me at school, nonna”

She stops what she’s doing to watch .

At that moment the nearly blunt knife doesn’t make a clean cut and the slippery onion falls from my fingers to the floor.

“Hmph,” says nonna. “I never went to school”

Ingredients for sauce

“What’s the sauce called Nonna?”

“Salsa Siciliana.”

“But it’s not very Siciliana.”

“Of course it is. I used to make it in Sicily so it’s Siciliana. But you can call it what you like…. salsa Abruzzese, salsa Napoletana, salsa Toscana….”

“What about salsa Australiana”

“Si, call it salsa Australiana, I like it.”

Nonna cutting tomatoes

Next to the eggplants preserved in oil and under a bottle of Magnesia San Pellegrino, I spy a jar of  Vegemite in nonna’s cupboard. I am shocked. I know of no Italian-born individual who can stomach the stuff. I decide to investigate.

“Nonna, do you eat Vegemite?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Oh no. It’s for (my second cousin) Tony. He ate it on toast every day for a year  but then he stopped. He doesn’t come much anymore,” she sighs.

“Do you want it? Take it, take it, ” she urges.

“No, no, so you’ve never, ever tasted it?”

“No,” she says resolutely.

A few minutes pass and we chop in silence.

She pauses for a minute.

“Is it good?”

“The Vegemite?”

“Yes”

“No not really”

“Oh, ok, it’s good I don’t eat it then huh?”

Vegemite in an Italian cupboard

Zio Sam,  nonna’s brother, comes home. Noticing the tomatoes we are cooking, he tells me at the grocer where he works they cost $5 a kilo. Hydroponics $10.

“Is that cheap or expensive, “ I ask ignorantly.

“Expensive! $2.99 or $3.65 not $5. They musta been scare, very scare.”

I guess he means scarce but the price is sort of scary, when you think about it.

Nonna cutting tomatoes

Nonna takes a break from cooking to check on her faithful companion, Fifi the dog.

“Why haven’t you eaten your pasta Fifi? Whatsamatter? Do you think we’re Americans here? Is that what you think?”

Fifi drops her head and continues to ignore Nonna.

“No respect,” says nonna exasperated “But what can you do?”

Nonna’s fresh tomato sauce

Serves about 15 people

  • 18 ripe tomatoes
  • 1 stalk of celery, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 small carrots,  peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 small red onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 small white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • A few basil leaves
  • Pinch of bicarbonate of soda
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  1. Wash the tomatoes and cut out the core. Score them with a deep cross. Place in a large saucepan.
  2. Over the tomatoes pour a generous amount of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.
  3. Add celery, carrots, onions, garlic, basil and bicab. Turn the heat to medium-low and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have completely broken down.
  4. Pass through a mouli and discard the solids. Serve immediately with pasta or bottle to put in the freezer.
Tomatoes with other ingredients in the pot
Tomatoes cooking
Tomato sauce cooking
mouli
Nonna with mouli and finished sauce
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Retro recipe: Spaghetti patties, 19 August, 1933

15 Feb

Today we go back, way back, to 1933, to sample a prize-winning recipe that its author, Mrs Reichenbach of Quirindi, NSW says is “most suitable to serve at a bridge party or as a dinner savory.”

I have my doubts.

However, in the spirit of culinary adventure, I decide to give the intriguingly named Spaghetti patties a try…

Into a saucepan of boiling salted water throw a handful of spaghetti. Boil until very tender, strain, add a lump of butter, pepper, salt, 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and 2 tablespoonful grated cheese.

My first issue is with the “boil until very tender”. I boiled the Barilla Spaghettoni number 7 for at least 20 minutes. I felt so wrong doing it and they’re still not that soft. I’m tipping the spaghetti in 1933 was not made with durum wheat so would’ve been much softer than this. Ugh. Soft pasta reminds me of men with weak handshakes – all limp and insipid.

saucepan with boiling water

Al dente? Not this pasta.

Next, trouble with “a lump of butter”. How much is a lump? Is it like a lump of sugar? That seems a reasonable deduction to me, so in it goes:

Lump of butter

Is that the size of a "lump"?

And now for the greatest crime against my race ever. Tomato sauce mixed into pasta. My parents always told me this is how Australians ate spaghetti, and I didn’t really believe them. Until now.

I feel sick shaking the dead horse into the pasta and, as I stir it through, I imagine my nonna, who lives in Melbourne, watching over me. She is crying. And saying the rosary. And asking God if it was a mistake to bring her family to the new country, if this is what it meant for her blood-line. Sorry, nonna…

tomato sauce

Forgive me family.

After the deed is done, it occurs to me that perhaps Mrs Reichenbach didn’t mean commercially-prepared tomato sauce. Did they even have that in 1933? I must find out. Alas, for the soggy little strings of spaghetti drowning in a red sea, it is too late.

Update:  Michael Symons in One Continuous Picnic: A History of Eating in Australia, says tomato sauce was being bottled at least by 1868. So it’s possible I did use the sauce Mrs R intended. 

Pasta sauce

Just wrong.

My filling is done.

Now it’s time for the pasty:

Sift two cups flour, pinch of salt, pinch of cayenne. Rub evenly into this 1 cup butter or clarified dripping, two tablespoonsful grated cheese, and mix into a firm dough with a beaten egg and a little lemon juice.

Not surprisingly I go with the butter. I don’t happen to have any clarified dripping on hand. Does anyone?

Dough

Sweet sweet butter...

Roll out thinly, cut and line patty tins with paste. Bake until golden in medium hot oven.

This goes reasonably well, even though the amount of butter makes my arteries harden at the thought of actually eating it. Actually eating it. I wonder if this is necessary.

pastry cups

Such little cups, so many carbs.

Turn out and fill with spaghetti mixture. Serve hot.

I try to delicately twirl the pasta into the cups. I try to channel Donna Hay. She would know how to make these little bastards look good.

pasta cups

I bet Donna could make these look nice...

A little chopped parsley sprinkled on top is a pretty decoration.

If you say so Mrs Reichenbach. Now they’re ready for their close up.

close up spag patties

Ready to be eaten.

And for a tasting. I take a bite. I can taste butter and tomato sauce. The spaghetti is mushy and the pastry case is crumbly. It’s bland, dry and crying out for some proper sauce. Or some vegetables. Or more cheese. Or something else. Anything else really.

Did Mrs Reichenbach really serve these up at Bridge parties? And did she really win a prize? I don’t know about the former, but the answer to the latter is yes, she did. The Australian Women’s Weekly gave Mrs R a consolation prize and said this little carb-on-carb delight “was simple to make and will be appreciated by housewives.”

Ahh, that’s the problem then, I’m not a housewife!

pasta box

In the archive, where they belong.

Another Orange Contest with £5 Prize. The Australian Women’s Weekly (1932-1982), Saturday 19 August 1933, page 35.